EVERETT — Sitting in court Tuesday with gray hair, Aaron Howerton apologized for what he did. His hands trembled due to abuse suffered as a child.
“I aided in the murder of a good person,” said Howerton, now 46. “I knowingly led my friend, Wilder Eby, to his death. I betrayed his friendship and his trust and the good person he will always be. I’m very sorry.”
The Monroe man was sentenced to life in prison without parole for murdering Eby in 1994, when Howerton was 18. Eby, of Mount Vernon, was 21. Following a recent state Supreme Court ruling, Howerton will soon be released from prison — and he’s one of the first in the state to see resentencing under the new guidelines.
The state’s highest court last year ruled that judges must consider the age of defendants in sentencing. The 5-4 decision is named after Kurtis Monschke, who was 19 in 2003 when he was one of a few white supremacists who killed a homeless man in Tacoma.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2012 that “children are constitutionally different from adults for purposes of sentencing.” In Washington, the Monschke decision extends that thinking to 18-, 19- and 20-year-olds. It is part of a broader reform movement to give more leniency in sentencing for younger people, whose brains are still developing.
Prosecutor Adam Cornell said Howerton is one of several Snohomish County defendants slated to get reduced sentences in coming months.
Arthur Longworth was sentenced to life without parole just after turning 20 in 1986 for killing Cynthia Nelson, 25. His resentencing is scheduled for February. Prosecutors will request a 45-year sentence for Longworth, court documents show.
And Eric Krueger was 20 when he was an accomplice in the killing of two Marysville men in 1997. His resentencing is scheduled for late March.
People who knew Howerton in prison called him an empathetic man who has grown since the murder and helped them. During his time imprisoned, he has become passionate about music, producing several albums under his own label. He has donated proceeds to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
He has also participated in hundreds of hours of therapy and counseling.
‘Every day I think about my brother’
Head injuries suffered in a motorcycle accident years earlier made Eby vulnerable to being taken advantage of, family members said in court Tuesday. He had just been hired as a barber at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, noted his brother, Larry Carr.
On May 1, 1994, Howerton, Eby and a few friends went to the Apple Blossom Festival in Wenatchee. One of those friends was Timothy Barnes, then 17.
They came back to Snohomish County the same day and Eby bought two pairs of gold earrings for his mother, according to court records. After that, Howerton and Barnes tried to recruit Howerton’s roommate to help them kill Eby, to steal his car as well as other items. The roommate declined. Howerton and Barnes decided to kill Eby anyway. Witnesses told police they’d been planning this for days.
In later police interviews, both Howerton and Barnes said the other man shot Eby, according to court papers.
After the killing, Howerton and Barnes took a few friends out to dinner. During the meal, Howerton reportedly said he was upset about a movie he saw in which someone was shot in the head and burned. Later, Barnes explained that Howerton had to shoot someone in self-defense.
That night, Barnes gave the friends two sets of gold earrings, according to court documents.
Several days later, Barnes, Howerton and a witness returned to the crime scene east of Monroe to burn Eby’s body and his car to destroy evidence.
Howerton was convicted of first-degree murder in 1995 and sentenced to a mandatory term of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. Barnes, who was sentenced to over 25 years, was released a couple years ago.
Howerton petitioned for his sentence to be commuted in 2020. Cornell opposed that request and the state Clemency and Pardons Board denied it.
On Tuesday, Cornell pushed for Howerton’s sentence to be revised to 32 years.
Meanwhile, Eby’s family urged the judge to maintain the life sentence.
“Every day I think about my brother, missing him, wanting to hug him, talk to him face-to-face, ask how he’s doing,” Carr said. “I haven’t been able to do any of that, except when I go to his gravesite.”
Noting Howerton appeared to be a “changed man,” Superior Court Judge Anna Alexander sentenced Howerton to 27 years, as requested by defense attorney Jennifer Bartlett.
The defendant has already served that time, meaning he will soon be released. He’ll have to serve three years on probation.
Upon release, Howerton plans to live with family on a Clark County farm.